When I was in fourth grade, I had a nice enough teacher, Mrs. Adams. Every day after lunch, she would crack open an icy cold soda and place it on her desk. I would stare at it longingly. I was instantly parched. She would sip on it between sentences and throw it away at the end of the lesson. I pledged to myself that when I became a teacher, I would drink sodas every day in front of my students. Because I could. Because being an adult meant getting to do what you wanted to do, when you wanted to do it. I couldn’t wait to grow up and gain all of that freedom.
Needless to say, I did grow up. I did become a teacher, as I had always wanted to be. And as soon as I was able, I made the decision to never drink soda in front of my students. Why?
When I was student teaching, I realized that they watch you. They watch your every move. They take mental notes. They notice things, like when you change your hair, if you get a new piece of jewelry, and how you choose to participate (or not participate) in school spirit days. One student’s mom met me and said that her daughter was starting to use phrases at home that she’d heard me say during my student teaching gig. How’s that for a reality check?
When you spend 180 days with an individual, you are certain to gather a few bits of information about their habits and attitudes. How does this person act when he/she is stressed? How does this person give praise and criticism? Does this person practice what they preach, or just give a bunch of lip service?
Students spend about 180 days each year interacting with their teacher. Some of these kids are lucky. Some have excellent role models in their home. Their parents open doors for others, give to charity, and volunteer in their communities. Others are not so lucky. They are not spoken to kindly, and are not recognized for their efforts and achievements.
The time spent with their teacher gives children the opportunity to watch an adult closely. You may think you are being a positive influence because you are teaching the student academic skills, but your role is much more important than that.
How do you do this? How do you become a role model who students look up to?
You do it when you run to help a student who has a dropped a bucket full of markers all over the floor and you quickly encourage the rest of the class to help out too.
You do it when you have a school picnic and you decide to forgo your chips and cookies for food that is healthy – because you know they are watching you, even if you never talk about what you are eating.
You do it when you greet another teacher with a friendly smile and offer to watch her class so she can use the restroom (pick up a form, walk a child to the nurse).
You do it when you welcome a new student with open arms, even though inside you are stressed at the thought of adding one more student and their needs to your already very-full roster.
You do it in the way you talk to your students when you are having a rough day. You do it by being firm and consistent and calm and positive – as much as is humanly possible.
And when you mess up and accidentally let your less-than-superhero-teacher side show, you apologize and make things right.
180 days per year, you teach a lot more than reading and math and science. You teach children how to treat other people. How to be in the world.
What an extraordinary responsibility we have as educators. We are important and long-lasting role models for the kids we teach. So no, I don’t drink soda in front of my students. I drink water. Out of environmentally friendly, reusable containers. And only if my kids are allowed to drink water too.
Click here to sign up for our list. Receive monthly newsletters and access to our member-only Resource Library!